What two comments by Mrs. Dubose infuriate Jem to the point that he can't control his temper in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

On the day in question, Mrs. Dubose does say that Scout will end up working at the O.K. Cafe, which terrifies her because of its bad reputation. Scout grabs at her brother's hand for comfort, but he shakes her loose. Even though Jem is upset Mrs. Dubose said Scout will wait tables as an adult, that comment does not make Jem mad enough to retaliate. In fact, he's the one who tells Scout not to pay attention to Mrs. Dubose's cruel prediction for her future. Mrs. Dubose sees this comment about Scout does not affect the children, so she decides to say two comments that shoot directly into Jem's soul:

"Not only a Finch waiting on tables but one in the courthouse lawing for ni**ers! ... Yes indeed, what has this world come to when a Finch goes against his raising? I'll tell you! ... Your father's no better than the ni**ers and trash he works for!" (101-102).

These comments hurt the children a lot because they are accustomed to hearing negative and racist comments from other children, but never from an adult. Adults are supposed to teach children to be kind, share, and take turns. For Mrs. Dubose not to follow the ways of decency, kindness, and respect—to stoop lower than the mind of a child—makes her behavior so much worse. 

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jem and Scout disliked Mrs. Dubose immensely, but they had managed to hold their temper with her until the insults she made against Atticus in Chapter 11. Mrs. Dubose made a habit of calling Scout "ugly," calling them "mutts," and expressing the opinion that Atticus let them run wild. Jem particularly hated when she made comments about his late mother. But the final straw came when Mrs. Dubose "pointed an arthritic finger" at them and predicted Scout would end up waiting on tables at the O.K. Cafe, a "dim organization" with a bad reputation. Mrs. Dubose then claimed that Atticus was in the "courthouse lawing for niggers." Scout realized that Mrs. Dubose knew that her insult had "gone home" with Jem, so she continued with one more:

"Your father's no better than the niggers and trash he works for!"

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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